Just before midnight on October 6, 2020, police raided the boarding house
of Pham Doan Trang , a prominent Vietnamese author, journalist, and human-rights
activist. They arrested her under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code for 'making,
storing, disseminating or propagating information, documents, and articles
against the State and Socialist Republic of Vietnam.' She faces up to 20 years
Ironically, Pham Doan Trang was arrested just hours after the United States and
Vietnam completed their 24th annual Human Rights Dialogue. Trang has been held
incommunicado in pretrial detention since her arrest. No one has seen her or
heard from her since that day, not even her lawyer.
Unfortunately, Trang's case is not unique. Despite their internationally
acclaimed achievements and important contributions to the human rights, free
press, and pro-democracy movement in Vietnam, Trang and other female activists
in the country are frequently subjected to harassment, arrest, and long prison
On June 24, 2020, police broke into Can Thi Theu 's house and arrested her
without a warrant. Theu is a land-grab victim and a land-rights activist. She
was harassed multiple times before she was arrested that day, her third arrest.
She is being held incommunicado. Her sons, Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong ,
have also been arrested, leaving Theu's husband, Trinh Ba Khiem , as the only
one not currently imprisoned.
Early the same day, land petitioner and human-rights defender Nguyen Thi Tam was
kidnapped by security forces while going to the local market.
These four were charged under Article 117.
According to The 88 Project's records , as of March 2, 2021, there are 83 female
activists currently at risk, including 28 in detention for speaking up for human
rights and democracy issues. There were nine women arrested in 2020 and four in
2019. In 2020, the number of arrests more than doubled, and most of the women
were charged for expressing their opinions on social media.
Vietnam suppresses dissent broadly, often denying political prisoners the right
to communicate with their families or lawyers, the right to a fair trial, and
adequate health care behind bars.
The targeting of female activists also raises serious concerns about the effects
of this treatment on women and their families, especially young children. The
arrest and harassment of female activists with young children, has a significant
mental impact on both the mothers and the children, as former political
prisoner Tran Thi Nga shared in an interview with The 88 Project after her
According to Clause 1(b) of Article 67 of the Vietnam's 2015 Criminal Code ,
'[a] convict who is a pregnant woman or having a child under 36 months of age
may have the sentence deferred until the child reaches the age of 36 months.'
However, the Vietnamese government often doesn't follow its own rules.
Doan Thi Hong was arrested on September 2, 2018, without any charges or arrest
warrant, and her family didn't know her whereabouts for a long time. Hong is a
single mother, and her daughter was only 30 months old at the time of her
arrest. She was held incommunicado for one year. During that time her family was
not allowed to see her, including her young daughter.
Huynh Thi To Nga , a lab technician, also a single mother, has two children, and
one of them was under 30 months old at the time Nga was abducted by plainclothes
police. She was taken away from the hospital where she worked on January 29,
2019, and her family didn't know her whereabouts for several weeks.
After Nga's arrest, the family decided to stay very quiet and were unwilling to
advocate for her because of intimidation by the authorities.
Dinh Thi Thu Thuy is the most recent arrest of a single mother. Thuy was
arrested on April 18, 2020, under Article 117 for 'making, storing, distributing
or disseminating information, documents and articles to oppose the State of the
Socialist Republic of Vietnam.'
According to the indictment, Thuy had allegedly created a number of Facebook
accounts to disseminate numerous articles distorting the Communist regime's
policies and defaming its leadership. She was also accused of criticizing the
Communist Party's measures in dealing with Covid-19.
Thuy is a human-rights and an environmental-rights activist, and she is also a
single mother of a nine-year-old child. Thuy was held in incommunicado pretrial
detention and did not get to see her son until December 2020. She was sentenced
to seven years in prison on January 20, 2021, and has been severely ill while
The Vietnamese government often uses children as bait to force their mothers to
sign a confession. The authorities accuse the women of not fulfilling their
responsibilities as mothers.
These women are often transferred to prisons located far away from their home
towns, even thousands of kilometers away. By detaining them in places that are
far from home, they make it extremely difficult for the young children to visit.
The family is only allowed to visit once a month and for less than 30 minutes
each visit. Sometimes the families will travel a long distance to the prison
camps only to find out that they are not allowed to visit.
The human-rights situation in Vietnam has worsened in the past five years. The
government often uses draconian laws to threaten freedom of expression, and it
has sentenced dissidents to longer prison terms.
The authorities continue to abuse the basic rights of citizens. They engage
in arbitrary arrests and detention, handing down lengthy prison terms, and
placing restrictions on freedom of expression, the Internet, the right of
peaceful assembly, and freedom of movement, such as by imposing travel bans.
The torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners is also particularly
worrisome. And it's even more difficult for female prisoners detained in such
conditions. Former female prisoners have shared their experiences in prison,
explaining how they had to fight for sanitary napkins or how the guards would
watch them while they were changing their clothes.
The 88 Project interviewed Pham Doan Trang before she was arrested. She shared
the struggles and challenges of female activists in Vietnam.
'In general, Vietnamese women are not respected,' she said. 'Not only in
democracy activism, female activists disadvantaged because they get attacked no
less than male activists. They are beaten and assaulted.
'The work they do is no less than their male counterparts. But what they often
get from other people is pity. I think it is not respect.…
'In a dictatorship nobody has freedom, but especially not women; their lack of
freedom is multiplied many times compared [with] men. Because women are not only
victims of the regime in terms of politics, but they are also victims of gender
inequality and self-constraint.'
International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8 each year. The 88 Project is
dedicating the whole month of March to honor all Vietnamese female activists,
and especially the 28 who are currently in prison.
Please join us in speaking up for Vietnam's female activists in honor of
International Women's Day. We encourage foreign governments and organizations to
press the Vietnamese government to provide better conditions for female
prisoners, such as ensuring visiting hours and following its own laws in respect
to the arrests of women with young children, and to release all female political